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CUSD 7 News

Kelly recognized by Illinois Principals Association



The Kaskaskia Region of the Illinois Principals Association hosted its 27th annual Student Recognition Breakfast on Friday, March 17 at Greenville University.

Honored at the event included Olivia Kelly of Gillespie Middle School. Kelly is an eighth-grade student of GMS and is the daughter of J.O. and Jill Kelly of Gillespie. She attended the event with GMS Principal Patrick McGinthy.

The annual Student Recognition Breakfast event recognizes a student from each school in the Kaskaskia region for outstanding achievements in and out of the classroom. Over 50 students were honored at the event.

Students were individually recognized in front of the audience and enjoyed a buffet-style breakfast followed by a motivational speech by Dr. Lori Franke-Hopkins.

The Kaskaskia Region includes schools in the Bond, Clinton, Fayette, Macoupin, Marion and Montgomery Counties. The Illinois Principals Association is a professional organization of building and district level school administrators.

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Community News

School board deals with personnel issues during special meeting




Stephanie Bray

Meeting in special session Monday night, members of the Community Unit School District 7 Board of Education accepted “with regrets” the resignation for purposes of retirement of Stephanie Bray, one of the district’s three technology integration specialists, effective June 4.

The board called a special session to deal with the apparently unexpected resignation before the board’s regularly scheduled monthly meeting later this month. However, board members tabled action on approving a revised job description for the Student Information System/Data Integration Specialist position, pending further discussion.

The board also tabled action on posting the newly created vacancy and tabled posting a district-level secretary’s position.

In February of 2022, the board accepted “with regrets” Bray’s announcement of her retirement “no later than the end of the 2025-26 school year.” There was no indication of why Bray moved her retirement date up by two years.

On a motion by Weye Schmidt, seconded by Amanda Ross, the board voted unanimously to accept Bray’s resignation. The action followed a 50-minute executive session to discuss personnel issues behind closed doors. The public portion of the meeting lasted less than 10 minutes.

In other action, the board voted to renew the district’s One Room contract to offer a remotely taught Spanish class to fulfill the district’s foreign language requirement for the 2024-25 school year. This will be the second year an off-site teacher will teach foreign language at GHS, using remote communication technology. Supt. Shane Owsley said the district had no applications for the vacant teaching position last year. This year, an applicant from Brazil explored the possibility of teaching in Gillespie but ultimately accepted a tutoring position at Greenville University. Owsley said hiring the applicant could have become cumbersome because she was not yet certificated to teach high school Spanish. He said he recently changed the job description from Spanish to foreign language to expand the pool of potential applicants.

In other personnel action, the board approved the maternity leave request of Amber Allan, BenGil Elementary physical education teacher, effective Aug. 28 through Jan. 20.

In separate actions, the board accepted Nathan Henrichs resignation as Gillespie High School freshman football coach, posted the position as vacant, and appointed Henrichs as a varsity assistant football coach. The board also voted unanimously to appoint Alex Jasper as an assistant freshman football coach. The board unanimously accepted Wayne Ireland’s resignation as a volunteer assistant football coach, and voted unanimously to appoint Jarrod Herron and hire Trenton Cleveland as volunteer assistant football coaches.


The board voted unanimously to hire Michael Rodriguez as a high school volunteer assistant women’s basketball coach.

On a motion by Schmidt, seconded by Kelli Vesper, the board hired Alexis Ollis as a head cook and kitchen staff member, pending documentation of certification and a background check. The board also Brittany Hughes as a district kitchen staff worker, pending documentation of certification and background check.

On a motion by Vesper, the board voted unanimously to post a vacancy for a one-on-one paraprofessional aide.

Board members voted unanimously to accept the resignation of Jessica Kelly as a middle school assistant track and field coach and voted unanimously to hire Jay Weber as the high school head track and field coach.

The regular monthly meeting of the board is set for 6 p.m., Monday, June 24, at the district’s administrative office.

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CUSD 7 News

School board names new head football coach




Members of the Community Unit School District 7 Board of Education on Monday night voted unanimously to appoint Cory Bonstead as the Gillespie High School head football coach for the 2024-25 school year, replacing Dalton Barnes, whose resignation was accepted last month. In other action, the board voted to dismiss Assistant Varsity Football Coach Donnie Allen, and to not renew Allen’s appointment as the high school track and field coach.

The actions bring to an end several weeks of controversy related to the former head coach and assistant coach. Barnes resigned last month as both a high school physical education and social studies teacher as well as the head football coach after parents alleged he and Allen engaged in verbal and physical abuse of student-athletes. An online petition garnering more than 630 electronic signatures accused Barnes and Allen of “child abuse,” citing alleged “verbal abuse, physical abuse, influencing and coercing student-athletes to act against other student-athletes that have spoken out against the abuse, and attempting to limit the First Amendment rights of student-athletes with threats and manipulation.”

While Barnes submitted his resignation, Allen did not step down, precipitating Monday night’s actions to sever him from the district.

Bonstead was hired in July 2022 as a high school resource teacher. He has served as an assistant football coach for the past two years. Before coming to the school district, he was an assistant football coach for Galesburg’s Knox College, where he earned his degree. As a formality, the board also officially accepted Bonstead’s formal resignation as assistant freshman football coach and posted a vacancy for that position.

The actions to hire a new head coach and dismiss the assistant coach took place following a one-hour executive session to discuss personnel issues and other concerns. Upon returning to open session, the board voted unanimously to rehire a roster of certified staff members discussed in executive session.

The board accepted “with regret” the resignation for purposes of retirement of long-serving district custodian Jerry Balzraine, effective May 31, 2025.

Custodian Neil Balzraine, representing non-certificated employees, read a statement thanking Supt. Shane Owsley, Board President Mark Hayes and other board members for coming to an agreement with the union for a new contract covering non-certificated employees.

“Through night and weekends, we worked hard and got a lot done,” Balzraine said. “These meetings were most professional, cordial and productive.”


Later in the meeting, the board voted unanimously to accept the new contract, which reportedly was ratified by union members Monday morning.

In other personnel action, the board reappointed winter coaches, including Casey Sholtis as GHS head boy’s basketball coach, Jake Kellebrew as assistant high school boy’s basketball coach, Anthony Kravanya as an unpaid volunteer assistant boy’s basketball coach, Jarrod Herron as scholar bowl coach for high school as well as seventh and eighth grade, Andrea Williamson as high school dance coach, Elizabeth Thackery as seventh-grade volleyball coach, and Celia Jubelt as eighth-grade volleyball coach.

Board members unanimously voted to accept the resignation of middle school paraprofessional James Bryant and to post a vacancy for the position. The board also approved a maternity leave request for BenGil Elementary School paraprofessional Kristin Schoen.

The board voted unanimously in separate actions to accept the resignation of Celia Jubelt as head high school women’s volleyball coach and post a vacancy for the position, and to appoint Matt Brawner as a GHS assistant women’s basketball coach.

Also in separate actions, the board voted to post job openings for a district head cook and a district kitchen employee. Board member Amanda Ross who moved to approve both actions pointed out the openings represent existing positions. “I want to be clear that we are not creating new positions,” she said.


On a motion by Peyton Bernot, seconded by Ross, the board green-lit three safety projects to be funded with proceeds of a COPS Federal Safety Grant.

PASS Security of Fairview Heights was the sole bidder for adding door access security for entry to the middle school/high school complex at a cost of $81,210.

Barcom Security with base offices in Springfield, Swansea and St. Louis, submitted the sole bid of $113,000 for an updated fire alarm system for the middle school/high school complex.


Commercial Telephone Systems, Collinsville, also the sole bidder, will install an updated intercom system at the middle school at a cost of $62,769.

“The companies we hoped would submit bids did submit bids and the prices were what we expected,” Supt. Owsley told the board. The contracts call for the work to be completed by two days before the start of the 2024-25 school year.


The board voted to place on file for public review an amended budget for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. Owsley advised that some numbers in the tentative amended budget are likely to change for the board’s final approval next month. State law requires a 30-day review period, however, even though some data to be reflected in the budget is still being collected.

“I can tell this will change,” Owsley said. “I will have final numbers and a presentation for the board in June.”

Last month, the board directed Owsley to begin work on a tentative fiscal 2025 budget authorized operational expenditures for the period between July 1 and whenever the new budget is approved. Typically, the district finalizes a budget for the current fiscal year in September.


Upon Owsley’s recommendation, the board declared two buses and one truck as surplus property. The three vehicles will be advertised for sale to the highest qualified bidders.


In other words action, the board:

  • Approved a high school course description book for the 2024-25 school year. GHS Principal Jill Rosentreter said there are no major changes from the course description document the district used last year.
  • Approved a revised school calendar. Supt. Owsley said the only change is setting 12:45 p.m. as the dismissal time on days that have early dismissal. Previously, early dismissal times were staggered at 12:30 and 1 p.m. The change is precipitated by the district’s decision to start the school day as the same time for all three attendance centers.
  • Approved a district-wide job description list.
  • Approved a corrected school fees schedule. Owsley said the action was needed because the schedule approved last month was inaccurate due to a computer error resulting from merging fee schedules from the district’s three attendance centers.

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Community News

School board approves elementary school principal’s retirement, accepts resignation of high school teacher/coach




FFA members headed to state competitions next month. Kayla Wills is at right, back row.

Long-serving BenGil Elementary School principal will retire in two years following the Community Unit School District 7’s Board of Education’s approval during Tuesday night’s regular monthly meeting of the board. On a motion by Kellie Vesper, seconded by Amanda Ross, the board voted unanimously to accept “with regret” the retirement of Elementary Principal Angela Sandretto, effective at the end of the 2026-27 school year.

At the time of her retirement, Sandretto will have been a district employee for 31 years, including 21 years as an administrator. Sandretto’s tenure predates the construction and collapse due to mine subsidence of the former Benld Elementary School. She started her career when the old Benld High School served as the district’s elementary school. She was principal when the new Benld school was built and when the seven-year-old building was destroyed by mine subsidence in 2009. She continued to serve as principal during the transition from the damaged school to the new BenGil Elementary School in Gillespie.

In other action, the board accepted without comment the resignation of Dalton Barnes as a physical education/social studies teacher, and as Gillespie High School head football coach. The resignation, accepted unanimously, appears to be related to recent controversy over alleged abusive behavior toward students.

Gillespie Police Chief Jared DePoppe and School Resource Officer Wayne Hendricks both attended the meeting, and left soon after the board completed actions related to personnel. Supt. Shane Owsley told the BenGil Post the police presence was a precaution due to concerns that “accusations and rumors on social media could spill over” into Tuesday’s meeting. An attorney from the law firm representing the school district accompanied the board into a one-hour executive session early in the evening to discuss personnel issues and other items.

Elementary Principal Angela Sandretto will retire at the end of the 2026-27 school year.

Accusations on social media in recent weeks alleged Barnes and an assistant coach engaged in verbal and physical abuse of students. With a goal of 1,000 signers, an online petition urging the termination of employment for Barnes and the assistant coach has garnered 639 electronic signatures. The petition accuses the two men of “child abuse,” citing alleged “verbal abuse, physical abuse, influencing and coercing student athletes to act against other student athletes that have spoken out against the abuse, and attempting to limit the First Amendment rights of student athletes with threats and manipulation.” The petition alleges there have been numerous instances of abuse and that the abuse has been allowed to continue despite “multiple red flags and complaints.”

No members of the public appeared before the board to address the complaints. Several teachers and teachers union officials attended the meeting but, likewise, made no public comments.


In other personnel action, the board:

  • Voted unanimously to accept “with regret” the resignation for purposes of retirement of GHS/GMS guidance counselor Jill Strole at the conclusion of the current school year, and to post the position as vacant.
  • Hired Aubrey Morgan as a first-year, non-tenured teacher tentatively assigned as the BenGil Elementary School music teacher for the 2024-25 school year, pending verification of certification requirements and a background check. Morgan is expected to receive her bachelor’s degree in music education this spring from Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville.
  • Voted to appoint Nikki Brawner as the GHS head women’s basketball coach for the 2024-25 school year. Additionally, the board accepted Brawner’s resignation as an assistant GHS women’s basketball coach and posted that position as vacant.
  • Voted, in separate actions, to hire Alex Jasper and James Bryant as GMS paraprofessionals, pending verification of certification requirements and a background check. Additionally, the board voted to appoint Bryant as the GMS eighth-grade boys basketball coach for the 2024-25 school year.
  • Voted to employ Alexis Lupkey as GHS head cheerleading coach for the 2024-25 school year.
  • Voted, in separate actions, to hire Nikki Hunter and Rebecca Leitschuh-Birdsell as full-route bus drivers for the 2024-25 school year, pending verification of certification and background checks.

On a motion by Ross, seconded by Peyton Bernot, the board voted to employ Jennifer Parker, Nancy Schmidt, Amy Price, Marci Johnson, Karissa Smith and Vanessa Barrett as teachers for the 2024 elementary school summer school program.

In separate actions, the board hired Shanna Connor as a math teacher, Casey Edgerton as a science teacher, and Jessica Kelly as an English/language arts teacher for the Gillespie Middle School summer school program.

The board hired Ashlee Gibbs as a high school summer school math teacher, contingent upon student enrollment, and hired Jennifer Brown as the high school summer school driver’s education teacher. Penny Feeley and Janice Hammann were hired unanimously as summer school food service workers.



The board accepted without comment the resignation of Dalton Barnes as a physical education/social studies teacher, and as Gillespie High School head football coach.

The board authorized Supt. Owsley to seek bids for several capital improvement projects related to student safety for which plans are still being developed. In January, Owsley reported to the board the district was successful in its application for a $466,365 state-funded Safety Grant. Matching the grant money with $155,000 in local funds, gave the district more than $600,000 in funding for capital improvements related to safety.

Owsley said architects are continuing to develop plans and bidding specifications for several projects, including installation of a new fire alarm system, installation of a new intercom system, installation of bullet-proof glass in the office area, and application of a bullet-resistant film on exterior windows. The Superintendent said he would advertise for bids as specifications become available.


On a motion by Weye Schmidt, seconded by Bill Carter, the board voted to direct Supt. Owsley to prepare a tentative budget for fiscal year 2025, which will run from July 1 this year through June 30, 2025. The new budget typically is presented to the board in August with final approval coming in September.

In a related action, the board approved expenditures from fiscal 2025 funds to cover operating costs from July 1, when the new fiscal year begins, until the new budget is adopted.

Though not a given, the board could amend the fiscal 2024 budget in June in the event actual revenue and expenditures for the current fiscal year differ significantly from projections made in the budget approved last summer.


Board members approved an intergovernmental agreement between CUSD 7 and Lewis and Clark Community College to offer dual credit courses at Gillespie High School. Under the agreement, Gillespie students can take college-level courses that will count as credit toward an LCCC associate’s degree. Teachers offering dual credit courses at GHS must hold a master’s degree and offer a curriculum approved by the college.


In a District Focus segment, the board was introduced to several High School FFA members who have excelled this year in competitions.

“These kids are doing some amazing things,” said High School Principal Jill Rosentreter. “They are going to competitions and bringing home trophies right and left.”

Payton Bertolis reading a statement thanking the board, adminstration, Wills and FFA members for the opportunity to participate in FFA and FFA competitions.

FFA sponsor Kayla Wills said she has led the program for six years. “This is the most outstanding group we’ve had since I’ve been here,” she said.

Wills introduced two teams––the Parliamentary Procedure team and the Ag Mechanics team––that have ascended to state competition set for May 2.  Team member Emily Hauser explained the areas of expertise on which the Parliamentary Procedure team will be judged. Caleb Oberfall spoke about the Ag Mechanics team.


The Ag Mechanics team includes a carpenter, a welder, a surveyor, an electrician and a mechanic, according to Wills.

“These kids have worked really hard and put in a lot of time,” Wills said. “I am very proud of them.”


A former district cook and current substitute cook, who identified herself as Mandy, addressed the board on behalf of district cooks regarding the possibility of contracting with Opaa! Food Management, Inc. to provide meals in the local district. Opaa! representatives offered a detailed sales presentation to the board last month.

“I worked for Opaa! at Staunton,” she said. “You need to look into them. They’re not what they say they are.”

She alleged the “homemade meals” are not homemade, and are, in fact, the same quality as any other food provider.

“I’ve been in food services for a long time and I know what food should look like,” she said. “It shouldn’t look like dogfood.”

The fact the company offers choices, she said, is a good thing but is a double-edged sword. If a child doesn’t care for the main selection on a particular day, they can have a peanut butter sandwich or salad instead.

“But if little Johnny doesn’t like peanut butter or salad, he doesn’t eat that day,” she said.


Having worked in the local district, she said she could attest that the food services staff cares about students.

In a related matter, Union Secretary Jennifer Parker read a statement from the food services staff thanking the board and Supt. Owsley “for the opportunity to continue to pursue options to bring more choices to the food program.”


In other action, the board:

  • Voted to renew membership in the Illinois Elementary Schools Association (IESA).
  • Approved a finalized calendar for the 2024-25 school year. Owsley said the calendar is unchanged from a tentative calendar presented to the board earlier, except “snow days” have been designated as “emergency days.”
  • Approved a fee schedule for the 2024-25 school day. Owsley said the new fee schedule is nearly identical to the fee schedule used this year except that the cost for adult breakfasts and lunches is increased by 10 cents. In addition, the district will now offer free breakfast and lunch to students in all grade levels thanks to a federal reimbursement grant for districts with high numbers of students from low income households. In the past, free breakfast and lunch was available only to kindergarten, elementary, and middle school students. This year, Owsley said, the high school also qualified for reimbursement. According to Owsley, the reimbursement program is locked in for four years, after which the district may again apply. “Hopefully, this will help our parents and students,” Owsley said.

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